The Invention of Religion Category and the Formation of the Secular in Japan

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Mitsutoshi HORII , Tourism and Business Management, Shumei University, Japan
This paper examines the social construction of the categories of 'religion' and 'the secular' in Japan. This is a preliminary analysis of how the term ‘religion’ was imported into and translated in Japan, how it was indigenised, how it has been employed by the state to establish the secular, and how the term 'religion' is used strategically by people in their everyday language. The Japanese concept of ‘religion’ shûkyô was invented amid the power struggle of international diplomacy against the Western colonial powers in the mid-nineteenth century. It also played an integral role in the formation of non-religion (or the secular), more specifically, the modern Japanese nation-state. After the fall of the shogunate in 1868 and throughout the modernisation process thereafter, the invention of the religion category, in turn, demarcated the modern Japanese secular, the category of non-religion, where the centralised state legitimated its authority over the population. The secularity of the state enabled the government to mobilise various groups classified as ‘religious’ for political purposes, while suppressing so-called ‘pseudo-religious’ groups, in order to achieve the ideological goal of the Japanese nation-state. After the Second World War, these categories of 'religion' and 'the secular' were reformulated under the influence of American-style liberal democratic values and sensitivities, which delimit the post-war Japanese secular. The boundary between these two realms, however, has always been ambiguous and often contentious. This paper argues that sociological studies of religion should critically analyse the social construction of the religion-secular dichotomy, by focusing on the social process in which particular meanings of the terms of 'religion' and 'the secular' have been constructed and the ways in which the two categories are demarcated from each other.